As a boy, Nick Mitzevich’s eyes were opened to the beauty and power of art when he visited the Maitland Regional Art Gallery.
“That was my local gallery,” recalls Mitzevich, who grew up on a farm in Abermain.
“I attended art classes there. I can’t actually remember the first picture I saw, but that was certainly the first gallery I visited.”
Now the 48-year-old is about to help Australians see themselves and their world through art.
Mitzevich has been appointed the director of the National Gallery of Australia.
Before his appointment was confirmed, there had been speculation for weeks that Mitzevich would be leaving his role as the acclaimed director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, where he has been since 2010, to head to Canberra. Mitzevich will be the sixth director of the national gallery, which holds 156,000 works valued at $6 billion.
“I feel a great sense of responsibility, and I’m just so honoured to lead the national gallery,” Mitzevich has told the Herald.
In his new role on the national stage, Mitzevich hopes to “champion the voice of artists” and to highlight their importance in society. What they create, he says, is “so critical to nurturing a tolerant, understanding and creative community”.
Art helped nurture a young Nick Mitzevich. He studied fine art and teaching at the University of Newcastle. After graduating, he worked as a teacher, an arts officer for the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW, and at the Newcastle Region Art Gallery.
“I fell in love with the Newcastle Art Gallery’s collection,” Mitzevich says. In particular, he loved Brett Whiteley’s landscape, Summer at Carcoar, which was displayed prominently in the gallery. It remains one of his favourite paintings.
“It is a picture that envelopes you,” he says.
After a stint lecturing in art history at the University of Newcastle and running his own commercial gallery in Darby Street, Mitzevich returned to the city’s gallery in 2001, as the director. He remained in that role until 2007 and was instrumental in the push for the redevelopment of the gallery, which remains unbuilt and an issue for political debate.
“I learnt my craft there at Newcastle,” says Mitzevich. “It deserves a new building, and I’ll be advocating for Newcastle to my last breath.”
When Mitzevich told his father he had been offered the role of director at the National Gallery of Australia, the Abermain farmer couldn’t contain his pride.
“That’s the biggest job in the country, isn’t it?,” Nick Mitzevich senior asked. “Yes, Dad,” his son replied.
Nick Mitzevich begins his new job in July.
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